Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Ian Boyne: Christians unfit to be guidance counsellors?

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 1:00 AM

When it comes to issues involving homosexuality, you can depend on The Gleaner to be incendiary, ruthlessly strident, rhetorically reckless and fiercely opposed to conservative Christianity, which it dismisses scornfully with the conversation-stopper 'fundamentalist'.

Running out of adjectives to manifest its disdain for any position that does not affirm homosexuality as normal, The Gleaner, last Tuesday in an editorial titled 'Homophobic guidance counsellors are child abusers', refers to "radicalised" Christian guidance counsellors who are "refusing to help gay and lesbian students who may be struggling with their sexual orientation". The Gleaner was referring to a growing controversy over a news story it broke last week that guidance counsellors were refusing to offer counselling to students who identify as LGBTQ.

I read the story over and over and could not get a clear sense of what was meant. Is it that guidance counsellors were not offering any counselling at all to a student once he or she identifies as gay? Or is it that they are refusing to help them to deal with their gay relationships? Is it that they are expected to counsel them as to how to have a harmonious homosexual relationship - how a guy can get along better with his boyfriend and a girl with her girlfriend?

Is it that they should give gay people tips on building healthy gay relationships? Should they help students having a hard time to accept their gay sexual orientation to just relax and accept how they are? Should they help them to accept themselves, reject "societal prejudice" against homosexuality and recognise that they have a God-given or nature-ordained right to live out their own particular sexual orientation, which they can't change anyway? What is the issue really?

Then there is the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), on the other side of the spectrum, warning that guidance counsellors should realise that buggery is illegal in Jamaica and, therefore, they can't be countenancing any illegal behaviour. Gay students should be referred to state authorities instead.

Says a Gleaner report last Tuesday: "Jamaica Teachers' Association president says it cannot call for guidance counsellors to be better trained to deal with gay students as buggery remains illegal. Norman Allen, who heads the union that represents guidance counsellors, says guidance counsellors face a difficulty in responding to those students when Jamaica has laws that make homosexual acts illegal." According to the report, "He says while the students should not be shunned, guidance counsellors cannot put themselves in a position to break the law and must refer the cases to the appropriate government agencies."

So if a student comes in and confesses to the guidance counsellor that he has been having gay sex, that student must be reported to the authorities, Mr Allen? The police perhaps should be called in for an arrest to be made?

It's a wonder this issue has not come up before for it is a real issue in a fundamentalist country like Jamaica. The fact is that the majority of the 800 guidance counsellors in Jamaica are conservative Christians. They believe homosexuality is an abomination punishable by eternal torment in a lake of fire. Now if God would take that attitude to homosexuals, how much more gentle you expect them to be?

Let's be plain about what we are asking and make sure we are asking the right questions. Are we saying the guidance counsellors should help gay students to accept themselves and their sexual identity? Should they counsel gay students to accept their homosexuality as normal, moral, and acceptable? If they do otherwise, are they guilty of child abuse? For make no mistake: A 14-year-old could really be traumatised, deeply conflicted, and psychologically tormented if he is told by a guidance counsellor that his behaviour is evil and sinful.

A child who is told that he is dirty or simply immoral if he or she cannot control sexual thoughts towards a member of his own sex can be deeply wounded. Should guidance counsellors be worsening children's psychological state, rather than helping them? Is that not child abuse, as The Gleaner charges?

These guidance counsellors, on a Monday morning, are coming from church over the Sabbath-Sunday weekend where they are taught that homosexuality is sinful and debased. Should they be expected to abandon that belief - their religious right - to now tell a gay student his orientation is OK and he should not feel badly about it? That is not going to happen. Even if he does not invoke his religious dogma, he cannot give any hint to that child that his orientation or behaviour is OK. The only real question is, should conservative Christians be guidance counsellors? Are they fit and proper for that type of job, where they have influence over young, impressionable minds?

And are you going to actively discriminate by not employing fundamentalist guidance counsellors because they are incapable of giving the kind of guidance that The Gleaner and gay-rights advocates really think students they should get? The Gleaner, in that editorial, talks about "radicalised" guidance counsellors who have turned "their sensitive posts into soapboxes from which to promote denominational interests and proselytise". So what? When they are wearing their guidance counsellors garb, they forget that their religion teaches that homosexuality is an abominable, sinful act and start telling students to forget about "homophobic society's" hang-ups and prejudices about homosexuality? Forget about ideas taken from a Bronze Age book called the Bible?

What are we asking of these guidance counsellors, realistically? The Gleaner laments that these Christian guidance counsellors "have allowed themselves to become disciples of zealotry that make them indistinguishable from the mob that promotes insularity and hatred". The Gleaner needs to understand that we still live in a pluralistic society where its views on morality are not the only ones on offer. And it happens that the majority in this democratic society still hold to views contrary to The Gleaner's .

We have to find a way to live together. The Gleaner editorial was conveniently ambiguous, just throwing around epithets. But come on, say it. Say that guidance counsellors must tell students to accept their sexuality and not judge themselves as immoral. Say guidance counsellors must counsel students to develop a "psychologically healthy", accepting approach to their sexuality and say they must help students to be emotionally strong to reject the prejudice of any anti-gay propaganda among their friends, the society and even family members. Say that anything less than that is a dereliction of their duty as guidance counsellors.

Saying "such scandalous conduct must not be excused as a right to personal views of freedom of religion" is meaningless unless the "scandalous behaviour" is unambiguously identified.

I know your code words, but be bold and say what you want. Saying guidance counsellors "are expected to cultivate boys' and girls' healthy self-esteem", when you really want to say they must be told to accept themselves as gay and accept their homosexuality as perfectly normal and no cause for shame, is cowardice.

When The Gleaner says, "Schools ... ought not to be headquarters of homophobia", does it mean if they are not to be so classified they should teach students homosexuality is morally acceptable? So have we now reached the place where everyone has to accept that homosexuality is normal, and there is no room for dissent? Well, we still do have a majority of conservative Christians. What are we to do with them? Push them in the closet? You have the JTA president saying guidance counsellors are to "help socialise students" into what he calls "acceptable behaviour". Which is quite different from The Gleaner's notion.

My point is, this is a pluralistic society and we have to accommodate even the misguided, backward, Stone Age views of conservative Christians. It is undemocratic and unconstitutional to force conservative, fundamentalist Christians to violate their conscience - however Neanderthal - by counselling students to accept homosexuality as OK when they don't believe that. I personally do believe these Christians have a moral duty of care to deal compassionately with gay students and not to betray their confidence, etc., but that's another matter.

Yes, fundamentalism can be dangerous, but a democratic society has to allow for that danger.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.